An Update on “Knowing” Me

Tuesday got off to a better start than Monday, but there was a blip that afternoon. Kate had been resting on the sofa, but I could see that she was awake. An old Ronnie Milsap album was playing, and he was singing “What a Difference You Made in My Life.” I walked over to Kate and said, “That’s what I could be saying to you.” She said, “What?” I explained and she gave me a dirty look. I realized that she hadn’t recognized me, but I was startled and said, “Help me understand. Why you did that?” She said, “I don’t know,” a stock answer for almost everything. Then I said, “I think I understand. You don’t know who I am.” She said she did, and I said, “Who?” She said, “The girl across the street.”

I didn’t tell her otherwise and took my seat again. In less than three or four minutes, she made an abrupt change in mood. She looked at me cheerfully and sat up. She started to stand but then picked up two of her photo books and wanted to take them home. She asked me to put them somewhere. I took them. She found several other books she wanted to take with her.

Then she wanted to go to the bathroom. She gave me a smile and cheerfully spoke to me as though the previous incident had never happened. I am sure she had no recollection. I showed her to the bathroom. When she was finished, I thought we would get ready for dinner. Instead, she got in bed and pulled the sheet over her. I was concerned that she might not get up, but she surprised me. Only a few minutes passed before she got up on her own, and we had dinner. She seemed just fine. That didn’t mean that she recognized me as her husband, but she was as friendly with me as she normally is. The following day we had a similar experience that was just as short-lived.

At least twice yesterday, she spoke harshly to me and then apologized. One of those times we were in the car, and she said she didn’t know why she had responded that way. I don’t recall her exact words, but she had a concerned look on her face and said what I interpreted as a recognition that something is the matter with her that causes her to behave this way. That fits with so many other signs of her self-awareness.

I’m not quite sure what to make of this. It could be like other things that occur once or twice and not again, or it could be the beginning of a progression of her Alzheimer’s that only gets worse. My guess would be it’s something that will get worse though I think her dependence on me and the positive feelings derive from that relationship will last a long time. At least that’s what I’d like to believe.

What Comes and Goes But Never Disappears?

The other day, I received the following reply to one of my tweets. “It is interesting how some with Alzheimer’s do not know your name or relationship but know who you are and that you are their special person. I have no doubt that Kate knows you are her special person.”

I, too, have no doubt that I am Kate’s “special person.” That is one of many things that I didn’t anticipate nor understand when we started this journey together. I won’t say that I fully understand now, but I do recognize that “knowing” someone is much more complex than I originally thought.

From the beginning, I knew that Kate would forget me, but I didn’t think about it in any detail. It was just something I envisioned as one of the saddest moments I might encounter.

I remember the day I discovered that my mother didn’t “know” me. She and I were talking while my dad was in another room. She had mentioned not having any family. I said, “What about your husband?” and she said, “I don’t have a husband.” I was stunned. I hadn’t noticed anything in her behavior that would suggest she didn’t know him. I asked about her sons. She said, “I don’t have any sons.” That blow was softened by her answer to my previous question, but it still caught me off guard.

More specifically, I was surprised because she almost always related to me so warmly and repeated something of a mantra. “You’re such a nice boy. You always were.” I didn’t understand how this could be. It made me wonder how long she had not known me as her son. How had I missed that?

I understand a little better now. At least, my experience with Kate has made this seem perfectly normal (that is, for someone with dementia). In addition, my learning about the difference between rational and intuitive thought or abilities has been powerful in facilitating my understanding. Knowing my name and relationship requires rational abilities, and she has lost those. Developing a comfort level and feeling heavily dependent on me requires something different, her intuitive abilities. Those abilities allow her to sense whether she likes me, trusts me, and depends on me. It is those abilities that will last a long time. For some PWD, they last forever.

Like many people, I thought forgetting me would just occur one day and that she would never remember me again. I quickly discovered memory for names, places, etc. comes and goes. At first, the loss of rational memory occurs infrequently but gradually increases. During the past few weeks, Kate has had greater difficulty with her memory of many everyday things like fork, napkin, and Dr. Pepper. In the past few days, she has had times when she couldn’t remember anything about her parents. In addition, her memory of my name and relationship has been even harder for her to recall than in the past; however, she is still comfortable with me though curious about who I am.

Something new has occurred in the past few months. It reminds me of something similar to an alter ego. We had a good example yesterday morning. I noticed on the video cam that Kate was about to get up. When I reached her, she seemed wide awake, quite unlike most mornings. She greeted me enthusiastically and was very talkative. I decided to take advantage of that. Instead of proceeding to get her up, I sat down on the bed beside her and talked with her. We had a beautiful 15-20-minute conversation. I was taken aback, however, when twice she mentioned her husband. Both of them were positive references. Until hearing this, I would have sworn she remembered both my name and our relationship.

As I suggested earlier, this is not the first conversation in which this has happened. I expect it will happen again. Perhaps I will be less surprised next time; however, the point I want to make is that she had two separate memories of me. One was the person with whom she was conversing, someone she recognized and with whom she was very comfortable and liked. The other was her husband who was not present but was also someone with whom she had a similar comfort level. The difference was only the distinction in our “official” relationship. He was her husband, and I was her “friend” (?).

I should add that she has often thinks of me as her father. That first happened a couple of years ago. It almost always begins with her asking, “Are you my daddy?” I usually answer with something like, “Would you like that?” or “I’m happy to be your daddy.” Then she smiles and calls me “Daddy.” After that it seems totally forgotten until the next time.

Until I was part of this conversation and several others like it, I never imagined this happening. It is one of many things that can seem strange or impossible, but with dementia almost anything is possible. It certainly adds another layer of complexity to the concept of “knowing” someone. Knowing me comes and goes: nevertheless, in some ways, it never disappears.

A Sad Moment to End our Day

The past few days have made me more aware of something many other caregivers  talk about. People with dementia can change quickly from one moment to the next. I frequently find myself caught off guard by Kate’s behavior. Take last night for example.

After spending most of the time sleeping or resting from Thursday night until getting up for dinner yesterday, she was in bed about 7:15 and asleep shortly after that. I was surprised when two hours later I heard her say, “Help me. Help me, please.” I told her I would. She repeated her pleas for help several times before I could get in bed.

After joining her in bed, I asked how I could help her. Her most common response is to say, “I don’t know.” Instead, she said, “I don’t know anything. Help me.” I told her I could help her and said, “First, do you know who I am?” She said, “What’s your name?” I told her and she repeated it but mispronounced it a couple of times. I coached her, and she got it right. Then I asked if she knew her own name. She didn’t. I said, “Your name is Kate.” She said, “Now let me say it.” She couldn’t remember it. I repeated her name twice. She repeated it successfully. For the next 15-20 minutes we repeatedly went over her name and mine. As soon as we finished one repetition, she wanted to go through it again. I wish I could capture the tone of her voice and how intent she was about trying to remember her name and mine. That is what made it so sad. She wanted to do something she simply could not do. The extent to which she was bothered is another example of her awareness that something is wrong with her. She was only successful a couple of times, and then it immediately followed my repeating the name. It was a powerful example of just how poor her short-term memory is, that is, virtually non-existent.

The only good news coming out of the experience is that she began to tire and wanted to go to sleep, and she as been all right today.

Awareness of Vocabulary Loss

On many occasions I have mentioned Kate’s awareness that something is wrong with her. That is most evident when she is disturbed over not being able to recognize her surroundings or know who she is. I have also mentioned that her vocabulary is shrinking. Many everyday words are rapidly disappearing.

Until this past Monday, I hadn’t noticed any sign that she recognizes the latter change. We were in the bathroom brushing her teeth when I used a word that she didn’t understand. I don’t recall what it was, but it was something ordinary. I didn’t think much about until she said, “I like the way you talk.” I told her I thought I talked the way she does. She told me that I know more words than she does. She said it matter of factly without any sadness or great concern. I feel good about that, but it was a reminder of how much self-awareness she retains. She has far more insight about herself and others than I give her credit for. That awareness may well account for those moments when she seems depressed but can’t explain what’s wrong.

Kate is Like a Child.

I suppose everyone has experienced and been delighted by the innocence of children. As a youth and during most of my adult life, I didn’t give much attention to children except for our own and those of family and friends. As I aged, I developed a greater appreciation of the gifts they bring us. They haven’t developed the sensitivity adults have about “proper” behavior. They behave and speak as if it only matters to them and no one else. They express what they feel so naturally.

Kate has always been interested in children. The nineteen years she served as our church’s volunteer librarian were especially fulfilling for her. Much of her work involved children either directly or indirectly. She would have kept her responsibilities as librarian had it not been for her Alzheimer’s. She realized before her diagnosis that she was no longer able to fulfill her position the way she thought she should and resigned.

During the past nine years, her interest in children has become a fascination for her. She enjoys watching them wherever we go and often speaks to them and compliments the parents for having such beautiful children. That has further increased my own appreciation of them.

That leads me to think about Kate. For the past three or four years, she has been somewhat more childlike herself. Increasingly, she behaves with me much like a child with her parent. That is expressed in several different ways.

The most typical example is her wanting to show me little things she has done. She seems proud of herself for what she is doing and wants my recognition. She likes me to watch as she pulls strands of her hair and runs her fingers between each of her toes to get “them” out. She asks me to look at her as she picks her teeth with her fingernails thinking there is something is stuck between them. She is sensitive about her skin and daily runs her fingers across the skin of her arms and legs and shows me her hand and says, “See them.” I try to pay attention and reinforce her belief that she is doing something good.

Above all, her most childlike qualities involve her expressions of enthusiasm for things she enjoys. Her pleasure over the beauty of flowers, trees, shrubs and house plants is the best example. The arrival of spring has brought daily moments of pleasure. She loves to share her enthusiasm with me and sometimes says, “Look at the pink (green, yellow.) “Do you see it?” I translate her question as “Won’t you share this beautifuI moment with me.” I never tire of seeing how excited she is almost every time she walks in our family room. That is particularly true when she sees the two small pots of African Violets. She also takes time to admire the four Poinsettias that have survived the winter. Occasionally, she sees the hydrangeas at the far end of the room and walks over to get a closer look. If she turns around after admiring them, she sometimes is surprised to see the Poinsettias again. I don’t ever recall seeing any sign that she is aware of having previously seen them or any of the other plants prior to that moment.

The newest source of pleasure involves her food. This has only occurred since being homebound. It seems surprising because the meals I prepare are very simple and most of our takeout meals aren’t the same caliber of those we have eaten at the restaurants. She rarely leaves anything on her plate. The exception would be the skin of apples and tomatoes as well as the crust of her bread.

She always wants to share her pleasure with me. It never dawns on her that her entrée and mine are almost always the same. Even when I tell her, she often says, “Try it. You’ll like it.” and passes her fork with a sample for me to taste.

It’s not just that she likes the food. She is animated and talks about it during a large portion of our meal. She liked her meals when we were eating out, but it was usually a special dessert that she talked about most. I never thought she was at all inhibited in a restaurant, but, perhaps, she feels even freer to talk when it is just the two of us at home.

Another possibility is that it is simply a side effect of her Alzheimer’s. She has forgotten most of the foods we eat. For a while, that was limited to a few things like pizza and pepperoni. Dr. Pepper has always been her favorite drink, and she wouldn’t drink the diet version. Now I only buy diet. It doesn’t make any difference even when she is looking at the bottle from which it was poured. She has also almost forgotten the name Dr. Pepper except to recognize it when I offer it to her. She raves about how good it is with almost every sip and then asks, “What is this?” We go through this multiple times during a meal. I suspect that is happening with all the other items on the table. As far as she knows, what she eats and drinks is always new and always good.

Some of you may be thinking, “How sad that she no longer recognizes the names of her favorite things.” You would be right. It is sad. It can be especially painful for me as her husband. How I wish I could spare her from these things as well as those that are to follow. My only way of adapting is to recognize that it is totally out of my control. All I can do is try to keep her safe and happy. I pour all of my energy into that. I’ve learned to live in her world and to be joyful that she can still enjoy life. I am also aided by the fact that she is so dependent on me. She is like a young child, she can do very little on her own. She needs help with everything, and I am willing and able to give it.

Does Kate Still “Know” Me?

It’s been almost two years since Kate first asked my name. I mentioned it to a friend in Rotary who has been very active in our club’s support of a project to raise funds for Alzheimer’s research (CART, Coins for Alzheimer’s Research and Treatment). A week later he made an announcement encouraging club members to contribute and mentioned what I had said. He conveyed how devastating that must have been for me.

While I would not have used that word, it was a moment that took me aback even though I knew that it would come eventually. I also knew that this was just forgetting my name in one moment and that at other times she would recall. I took it as a sign that the day might be coming when she would completely forget who I am and wondered how long that would be. At this point, I still don’t know. That’s good news because it means she continues to remember off and on both my name and that I am her husband. In fact, in the past few months, she has called me by name more than she did a year ago.

There is even more good news. Although it is common for her not to remember my name and relationship, she almost always recognizes me as someone who is familiar and with whom she feels comfortable. She trusts me. Two incidents occurred yesterday that are good illustrations.

At 8:30 yesterday morning, twelve minutes into my walk, Kate sat up in bed. I went to her. She was ready to get up. Although she expressed her general unfamiliarity with the location of the bathroom and what to do when there, she did not appear to be disturbed at all. I took her hand and walked her to the bathroom.

For months, she has asked what to do when I show her the toilet. Recently, I started telling her to pull her underwear down and sit on the toilet, and everything would come naturally. Once seated she understands I was right and sometimes, as she did yesterday, seems amazed that “the water just comes out.”

After using the toilet, she asked, “What next?” I told her it would be a good time for a shower. She didn’t hesitate and just asked where and what to do. I turned on the shower and led her inside. She was very comfortable with me and preferred that I take the lead in bathing. The was the first time she just stood there and turned around when I asked so that I could reach all around her.

As we walked out of the shower, I said something I don’t often say, “Do you know who I am?” She said, “No, who are you?” I gave her my name, and we continued to the bedroom where I helped her dress. Then she lay down to rest. I believe that during the time from getting up until that moment she didn’t know my name or our relationship, but she obviously trusted me. Of course, that could have been because I was the only one available. I believe, however, that her comfort level expressed the nature of our relationship and that she would not have responded the same way with a stranger.

The second illustration occurred late yesterday afternoon and early evening. Following her afternoon rest, she sat up and said she was ready to eat. I told her it was a little early for dinner and suggested she have a snack to tide her over until then. We went into the kitchen where I gave her a banana. She didn’t remember what a banana is but was delighted when she took the first bite.

It was clear that she also didn’t remember we were in our house, so I decided to give her a tour of the dining and living rooms. We must have spent ten minutes in the dining room. I am embellishing my commentary even more now. I pointed to the chandelier (never remembers what a chandelier is) and explained that was from her parents’ home. I said, “Can you picture your mother and daddy looking at different fixtures and finally deciding this was the one they believed was best for their new home then under construction. Her mother was quite a cook and loved to entertain. I reminded Kate of all the celebratory occasions and specific family members that would have eaten under the light of that chandelier. She loved the tour, but all the family items I showed her never made her recognize she was in her own home.

When we entered the living room, she was tired of standing and asked if she could sit down. We sat on the sofa that had been in her parents’ living room. I reminded her of the times we had sat on that sofa and sneaked a kiss or two after her mother and daddy had gone to bed. I didn’t yesterday but sometimes I also remind her of the doorbell that her parents had installed for her grandmother who stayed with them in the winter. Her mother rang the doorbell as a signal when it was time for me to leave.

Kate was tired and asked if she could rest on the sofa. I told her that would be fine and that I would get my laptop and sit with her. She rested about forty-five minutes before asking when we were going to eat. I told her we could order takeout from Chalupas right then.

As she got up, she asked me where I live. I said, “Right here with you. This is our house.” She looked at me skeptically. I didn’t say anything more. Her conversation in the car going to and returning from the restaurant made it very clear that she didn’t know my name or our relationship. I responded to one of her comments by saying, “I hope you feel you can trust me.” She said, “I do. You’re a nice guy.” I said, “I’m glad to hear that because I like being with you.” She said, “I like being with you.”

We ate our meal and then went to the bedroom where she started to work on puzzles but became frustrated with the first one. I gave her a couple of photo books to look at while I watched some of the evening news. She wasn’t interested. I asked if she would like to get ready for bed. She was. She was very cooperative in taking her medicine and putting on her night clothes. She went to sleep but woke at least for a minute or two when I got in bed an hour and a half later. She responded to me warmly just as though she knew I was her husband. Did she? I don’t know. I do know that she tapped me on the arm early this morning. I looked at my watch. It was 4:44. She said, “I love you.” I said, “I love you too.”

Does it really matter whether she knows my name or that I am her husband? She knows “me.”

Continued Mixture of Confusion and Happiness

Yesterday morning as I was taking my walk around 7:20, I heard Kate scream. I went to the room. She was upset but not as much as I would have expected from her scream. I am guessing she must have had a bad dream because she acted like she wanted to go back to sleep. I asked if he would like me to stay with her. She did, and I remained in the bedroom for about thirty minutes. Then I continued my walk.

She quickly went back to sleep and didn’t wake up until 10:20. At that time I heard her say, “Hey.” Her voice was soft, and I wasn’t sure that I had heard her. When I reached her, she confirmed that she had called. We talked a few minutes, and she seemed all right. Like the day before, I soon learned that she was confused. Before getting out of bed, she said, “Who are you?” I gave her my name told her that I was her husband. She reacted strongly to that, and I said, “I am a good friend, and I can help you with anything you need.”

We walked to the bathroom, but she was a little uneasy with me when she used the toilet and when she showered. She was resistant to my helping with her shower. She said, “Don’t ever tell anyone about this?”

The shower turned out to be good therapy. She enjoyed it and said she felt better when she got out. She was still guarded. She was comfortable enough to let me help, but she was also trying to keep her distance from me. A funny thing happened as I helped her dry off and get dressed. As she often does after a shower, she wanted to lie down on the bed. Then she surprised me by saying, “Don’t forget my (unclear, couldn’t think of the right word).” She pointed to her toes. She had already run her fingers in between each toe. Now she wanted me to do it.

When we left for lunch, she seemed quite comfortable with me, but I don’t think she recognized me as her husband. During lunch, I eased into some comments that would suggest we had known each other a long time. Our server told us she would be leaving to spend a semester in Berlin. I mentioned that we had visited there and that she would like it.

When she stepped away, I talked to Kate about some of the places we had traveled. I deliberately failed to mention our marriage. She seemed to accept what I said without any concern or confusion or fear that she didn’t remember these experiences. At little later, I mentioned that our son was planning a trip to see us. She seemed fine. I never asked if she knew I was her husband.

We had a very brief sad moment in the car on the way home. We had stopped at the pharmacy to pick up a prescription. As I came to the exit from the parking lot, she saw a stop sign. She tried to read it but couldn’t. I told her it said, “Stop.” She said, “What’s that?” I explained. She looked sad and said, “I don’t like to be a ‘duppy.’” She meant “dummy,” of course. I said, “You’re not a dummy.” You’re a smart gal.” She got excited and said, “Hey, and I didn’t even pay you to say that.” It’s been almost nine years since her diagnosis. She forgot a long time ago that she has Alzheimer’s, but she still knows at this late stage that she’s “not right.” She wants to be but can’t. That’s sad.

That moment really was brief. It lasted only minute. When we got home, she rested for a couple of hours in her recliner. As usual, her eyes were open off and on. I’m not sure how much she actually slept. I do know that she was quite calm and seemed happy. Halfway through her rest, I asked her if she was relaxed. She was. I told her I was as well.

A short time later, she accepted my offer to read something to her. This time I chose something different. I picked up the photo book that she and her brother had made in the early days after diagnosis. It focuses on her mother’s family who lived in Battle Creek. At the end of the book there is a section that focuses on the Kellogg brothers, Battle Creek as “Cereal City,” and the Battle Creek Sanitarium where Kate’s grandfather was a doctor. I read for about forty-five minutes. She was interested and asked me to re-read much of it as she tried to take in all the information. It had been a long time since I had read it, but I will put this on my list of things to read more frequently.

Our dinner and time at home afterwards were good as usual. With all the changes that are going on, I still find that afternoons and evenings are the most predictably good times for us. That’s a nice way to finish the day.

Morning Confusion and Fright, But a Pleasant End of the Day

Kate was sleeping soundly when I woke her about 10:45 yesterday. She got up without a problem. I thought everything was fine. It wasn’t until I helped her out of bed that she showed any signs of fright and confusion. It was a time when she didn’t have any idea of who I was but gladly responded to my assistance in every way. I told her I was her husband, and she said, “No.” I said, “How about good friends?” She said, “That’s better. She depended on me to tell her what to do and how to do it. For example, washing hands and brushing teeth were like she had never done either before. I was very careful not to rush her. I knew she had plenty of time to be ready for the sitter. That may have helped. I know she didn’t get irritated with me at all.

After she was dressed, she was disoriented. I took her through the hallway outside the bedroom to see photos of her mother and grandmother. She often guesses the photo of her mother is of her. This time she had no idea. She also expressed less interest in the photos than the past. Then we went directly to the kitchen for her morning meds. That went smoothly. When she had taken the last one, we had a few minutes before the sitter was to arrive. I told her she would be going to lunch with Cindy, and I was going to Rotary. I don’t remember her exact words, but she sternly said something like, “You are not.” I asked her to come with me and took her to the family room. I showed her The “Big Sister” album. She didn’t recognize herself or her brother in the cover photo.

We sat down on the sofa, and I opened the album and showed her the pictures on the first few pages while giving her a commentary on them. Her interest grew. A few minutes later when Cindy arrived, she was happy. Cindy sat on the other side of Kate, and I went to the kitchen to get my things. I walked back to the room to say goodbye and noticed that they were looking at a picture of Kate’s parents. I made a comment about them, and Kate said, “How did you know?” I told her that I knew her parents. She turned to Cindy and said, “I don’t even know who he is.” I said goodbye while the two of them continued looking at the photos. She didn’t show any concern that I was leaving. I felt good that she was comfortable with Cindy.

When I returned home, Kate was, as usual, lying down on the sofa but not asleep. She didn’t express any enthusiasm about my being home, but she wanted me to help her up. I discovered a few minutes later than she was ready to leave. She wanted to go home. I took her to Panera and got her something to drink. She worked on her iPad, and I did the same on mine. She got along pretty well on her puzzles without much help from me. An hour later, I suggested that we eat dinner there instead of going for our usual Mexican meal. When we finished, I took her back home. She didn’t say anything more about going home. This routine of leaving the house for “home” has worked each time I have tried it. That makes it an easy to address this problem. It is certainly better than telling her she is already at home.

Kate worked on her iPad for almost an hour after our return, but she had great difficulty with her puzzles. I was seated in a chair across the room from her watching the evening news. Every few minutes I had to get up to help her. She tired of this before I did and asked if she could get ready for bed. I turned on YouTube with a series of Andre Rieu videos that she enjoyed for an hour and a half. Then I put on some especially relaxing music on our audio system. When I got in bed, she was still awake but very relaxed and happy. That was two hours after she had gotten to bed. That is rather commonplace now. It may be that she isn’t really that sleepy. She just needs to rest her brain for a while. The music relaxes her. She doesn’t have to hurry to get somewhere. And she doesn’t have to experience any of the normal frustrating or intimidating situations she does at other times of the day. Living with Alzheimer’s is an emotional ride.

Changes Abound

This has been a week when I feel I’ve had more to say than I’ve said. I’ve been busier with Kate, and a few holiday related tasks. In addition, I have been dealing with a few household issues, a leak in our pool, a leak in a pipe under the house, a toilet that needed fixing, and some minor electrical work. Perhaps more than anything else, I haven’t been exactly sure how to express what I want to say. It’s all wrapped up in a single word: change.

Haven’t I said that before? Yes. Maybe that’s why it’s hard for me to say it again in a way that distinguishes what is going on now from the past. I’ve devoted a little more time this week to paying attention and thinking about that rather than writing. I haven’t considered this a waste of time at all. I’ve read about authors who have made a point of saying that the “thinking” part of writing for them is the most valuable part. With that in mind, let me tell you about some of the things that are going.

Kate  more frequently expresses insecurity about what to do when she wakes up, when brushing teeth and bathing, when we are in restaurants. She was especially uneasy during our Christmas dinner at Ruth’s Chris. That may have related to the somewhat more formal nature of the room, the service, and the fact that this is not a restaurant we often frequent. It had been several years since our previous visit. That was with the staff at the office and a time when her Alzheimer’s affected her much less than it does today. Whatever the cause, she was never fully at ease.

Her morning confusion seems to be more severe now. On several occasions, she was so frightened that she hasn’t wanted to get out of bed. Each time I have been able to help her recover, but it takes longer than the past. That happened day before yesterday. She didn’t know “anything.” I talked with her very slowly and calmly. She didn’t know who I was, but she trusted me. I was eager to get her up so that we could have lunch together before the sitter arrived, but I knew that rushing her would make things worse.

I put on some soothing music at a very low volume, and we talked for fifteen minutes or so. Though I talked about her parents and our children, nothing rang a bell. She became comfortable talking with me, but she was still confused. Then I decided it was time for something more upbeat. I remembered that several weeks ago she had recognized and liked the song “A Bushel and a Peck.” I played it. The minute she heard it she laughed. We were making progress. I was streaming the song from a playlist of Doris Day music, so we heard a couple of other old songs we both recognized. Then I switched to the soundtrack of My Fair Lady. By the time we got to the third track, I suggested we go to lunch. She didn’t jump right up, but she did let me ease her up, and we got ready. She was fine.

She struggles more with her clothes than in the past. Sometimes she wants to be independent, and I let her do what she can. It isn’t long, however, before she asks for my help.

Her vocabulary is diminishing. She often says, “I don’t know how to say this.” She can’t pull up the words that express what she wants to say. That is more than a vocabulary problem. It is also a problem organizing her thoughts.

Along with that she sometimes fails to recognize common objects. Ironically, that almost always happens with her iPad. When she sees it, she asks, “What’s this?” Last night I handed her toothbrush to her and didn’t know what it was or what it was for. I explained how she should use it. At Panera this morning, she looked at a napkin and asked what it was.

I have no way of measuring this, but it seems like she does not know my name or our relationship for a longer time each day. On the other hand, she almost always feels comfortable with me. She trusts me. It is when she first wakes in the morning that she is least likely to know my name or relationship. She does, however, know to call me in the morning. Most of the time, she just says, “Hey.” Interestingly, there are times during the day when she needs something and calls me by name. This seems to be a example of a simple “stimulus/response” behavior. She occasionally asks my name shortly after using it.

Our Christmas Day conversation when she couldn’t remember anything about her mother was a striking first. She has always retained strong and very positive feelings for her mother. I thought that would be the last memory to weaken. Of course, that didn’t last. I haven’t seen any similar signs since then.

There are more times like this when she seems to be in a fog. These seem to occur most frequently in the morning when she wakes or during the day after resting a while. It is like her brain closes down while resting or sleeping. Then when she opens her eyes and looks around, she doesn’t recognize anything or in some cases, she has hallucinations. After resting in her recliner a while the other day, she opened her eyes and pointed to something across the room and said, ““It’s been a long time, you know.” <pause>. Then she pointed to the ceiling and said, “Hey sit down.  All of you.” (Chuckles)

She talks in her sleep more. Sometimes I talk back to her, and she speaks to me while still appearing to be asleep.

Her vision is worse. I think that accounts for some of her uneasiness when walking from the car to a restaurant and back as well as her difficulty getting seated or going up and down curbs. She frequently fails to eat food on her plate because she hasn’t seen it. Occasionally, I walk to another room after we have been talking. When I walk in moments later, she doesn’t recognize me and asks, “Where did he go?” If I say, “Who,” she usually says, “The other guy. The one I was talking to.”

She loses me easily. Sometimes that occurs when we are within a few feet of one another. The other night at a nearby pizza place, I saw that there was just one remaining booth and walked ahead of her to claim it before someone else. When I looked around she was looking for me. We looked at each other, but she didn’t recognize me until I walked closer. She was frightened that she had lost me.

Surprisingly, she seems to be rather good at seeing small spots. It is not unusual for her to eat everything on her plate and then look for tiny specks of remaining food that she picks up with her finger.

Her sleeping pattern is more erratic. She had a long period of time when she slept regularly until 11:00 or after or when I woke her. More recently, she went through a period when she would wake up early and go to the bathroom then go back to bed. I’m not sure there is a pattern anymore.

She has more problems with eating. She is particularly confused when she has both a fork and a spoon. If she has soup, she usually begins to eat it with a fork. Then I show her the spoon. After she uses the spoon, she uses it for everything else.

She also uses soups and condiments as sauces for other parts of her meal. For example, we eat lunch at Bluefin on Saturday. They prepare excellent grilled salmon that she likes. It is not unusual for her to dip her salmon in the ketchup that accompanies her sweet potato fries. I brought some lobster bisque home from lunch on Christmas along with Our sweet potato casserole. She used the bisque as a dip for the casserole.

As she was finishing her meal last night, she poured all of the remaining ice and tea onto her plate with a few pieces of chicken and began to eat the dozen or so flat, square pieces of ice along with her chicken. She didn’t leave a speck of anything on her plate or the two cups with her side dishes of strawberries and applesauce.

She is beginning to forget how to take her pills. Sometimes when I hand her a pill and a glass of water, she asks what to do with it. She occasionally puts the pill in her mouth, drinks the water, and doesn’t swallow the pill. When I hand her the next one, she says, “What do I do with this one?” I have to watch her more carefully than in the past. She can take one pill and forget the others.

Yes, life is changing. There are more things that demand my attention. Having said that, we still have a good time together. I’ll say more about that in another post.

A Christmas Afternoon Conversation

Kate and I had just returned from a late Christmas lunch around 4:30. We went to the family room, and Kate asked what she could do. I told her I could read something to her or she might like to look at one of her family photo books. She was unsure. I picked up a photo book of her father’s family and suggested we go through it together. I handed it to her and let her look for a few minutes while I brushed my teeth.

When I returned, she was looking at the first page. She told me she didn’t know anything. I told her I would help her. For about ten minutes we went through a few pages with my commentary on the people and places. She said she was interested but this was too much for her. She couldn’t absorb or remember anything. I suggested that it might be a good time for her to take a break and just rest. She said, “Let’s just do a couple of pages.” I agreed, but she stopped me again to say it was too much. This time she accepted my suggestion to rest. We closed the book and began an interesting and touching conversation that I was able to record. I have transcribed the beginning portion below.

Richard:         So you don’t remember anything right now.

Kate:               No. <pause> No. I don’t.

Richard:         Do you remember anything about your mother?

Kate:               No.

Richard:         What about your daddy?

Kate:               You know, right now, I just can’t even (Trails off)  This is so much to remember. It’s just too much right now.

Richard:         You know what you do remember though, I think? You can tell me if I’m wrong. You remember that you liked your mother very much. Do you remember that?

Kate:               No.

Richard:         You don’t?

Kate:               But that would be wonderful thing.

Richard          Do you remember what a nice and great woman she was?

Kate:               I don’t know much about her. I hardly know anything about her. I know I’ve been told, but I <slight pause> I mean, I must have, must have, but I have no (Trails off)

Richard:         No memory.

Kate:               This is why I don’t want to go too fast, and  I’d rather just go (Trails off)

Richard:         We don’t have to hurry at all. There is no reason to rush.

Kate:               Well, see, uh, that’s, that’s good.

Richard:         There are a couple of things I’d like you to know from me.

Kate:               All right. If I could tell you, I will.

Richard:         No, I just want to tell you something, and it’s the way I, it’s something I feel. One is that I love you very much.

Kate:               I love you too.

Richard:         Second is I want you to know you can depend on me.

Kate:               I think so too.

Richard:         I will help you with anything you need – anytime, and I believe that you know that I will.

Kate:               Oh, I know. Definitely.

Richard:         We’ve always cared for each other.

Kate:               Yes, we have.

Richard:         And we always will.

Kate:               That’s right too.

Richard:         You know, it takes us back to our wedding vows, doesn’t it? We said we would always stick together. For better or for worse.

Kate:               And we have.

Richard:         And, fortunately, its been mostly, almost entirely, the better for us. Hasn’t it? Haven’t we been fortunate?

Kate:               Oh, yes, yes, yes. I don’t remember much of it, but, you know, I’ve never had an anybody that . . . No <pause> no problems, they were all. I mean I don’t remember in (Trails off)

Richard:         You’re right. We just have had good times. We enjoyed the places we have lived. We enjoyed the people we’ve met. We’ve enjoyed our experiences in our work and going to school. You know, one of the things you enjoyed most was being a church librarian. It was one of the most fulfilling things (for you), and, you know, you did a good job. You helped so many. . . You’ve led a fulfilling life.